Posted by Mark Bilson on November 7th, 2006

As soon as you mention the spiritual aspects of Aikido many people construct a subconscious barrier by assuming that the spiritual and martial aspects are in distinction to each other. In other words, Aikido is either “spiritual” or “martial.”

In my own case I discovered the spiritual foundation through the martial application. I have worked in the punishment and management unit in a maximum-security prison for the last 10 years and it is through being involved in a multitude of violent incidents that my Aikido was transformed.

We had a riot in the prison and it was through this that my interpretation of the foundation of technique changed. It is normal practice that when a person is brought into my area that they are handcuffed with their hands behind their backs. They are then placed facing the wall in order for the cuffs to be removed. As one cuff is taken off their hand it is then placed above their head and on the wall. Then the other is removed and both hands are on the wall above their head. However, in this particular instance as the right hand was placed on the wall he turned anticlockwise and attempted to strike me in the face with his right hand. As my left hand was still holding his left wrist (still behind his back) I turned with him and placed my right hand on his inner left elbow and continued to turn with him (with me in the center of the movement) and Ikkyo Ura was created, it was being powered solely by his aggression and intention. He hit the ground harder and faster than any Ikkyo that I had ever done before and I had used almost no force. He had nothing to resist against as it was his own power that was causing it to happen and all I did was encourage it in the direction it was already going. Later on another person lunged at me with both hands outstretched in an attempt to take me to the ground by grabbing my waist. I stepped to the side and placed my hand on his neck (at waist level) and my other hand rested on his forearm. A variation of Kaiten Nage was created by his power and it sent him face first into the ground.

Due to many incidents of this nature I started to understand what it meant to receive another’s power from an unknown attack. In the dojo I worked through Aikido techniques with this insight. In essence whilst in the role of Nage it was as if I was Uke. This transformed technique into being very powerful and soft at the same time. I had to let go of all my power, if I did not I could not harmonise with another’s movement. If I tried to put my will and intention on a movement “I” would create a conflict point. It then degenerates into a wrestle at that point. This point then changes to another point and so it continues.

When a person is violent and aggressive it is almost impossible to apply a technique to them as their strength increases to such an extent that it takes four men using all their power to restrain them. Furthermore, their body tenses up so that it is rigid when you try to do something. You may want to get one of your friends to grab your wrist with full power and give him the freedom to do whatever he wants and see if you can apply a technique.

You will find that you cannot.

It is the abandoning of the desire to apply “pre-learned techniques” that is the beginning of the discovery of the spiritual foundations of Aikido.

I learned to see intention before it manifested itself with an attack. As a person had the intent to hit me I would provide an opening for him to do so. As soon as he started his attack I had already moved and his power was guided into my center and technique was created. In order to do this my mind had to be clear, my breathing natural and my body relaxed. With “no mind” I could see what he was going to do before he did it and respond naturally. Thereby, controlling his movement without attempting to control it.

This is Aikido.

It is in the joining together of the spiritual and physical that Aikido becomes a Budo. If you can “see” the intention and harmonise with it then you will always be victorious, as the desire to “fight” on your part has been overcome. It is by being in harmony that victory is decided before contact, it is already over before it starts as you have already embraced his spirit.

Some people (especially the young) get mixed up about what Aikido IS by imagining it “against” a boxer or wrestler in order to determine its value. If you start by engaging in fighting and competition with an intention to dominate your partner with techniques it is not Aikido, you have changed it into a sport.

As I said in my previous article (A Spiritual Lineage) that the lineage of Aikido is a spiritual one and this needs to be brought to the forefront in our era for Aikido to continue as a Budo. It is in the teaching of the spiritual principles that underlie the creation of technique that is the true foundation of Aikido.

If the spirituality is emphasised without strong, committed attacks it becomes a healthy gymnastic or dance between two people in mutual co-operation and ceases to be a Budo. On the other hand, if just the physical is emphasised it becomes an alternative to judo or jujutsu and is very close to becoming a sport.

Both must be together for Aikido to be a Budo that can cope with any attack because of the spiritual foundation of its principles. In so doing, it is the zenith of the martial arts in winning without fighting.

“Embrace this moment

For this is all there is.”

Mark Bilson

Shinnyo Aiki

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog, and I hope it makes you want to find out more about Aikido